Monday, March 25, 2013

The Killing Fields and Angkor Wat

The border crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia was the easiest cross we had so far. We barely had to walk and the bus driver filled out all of our departure/arrival cards for us. After we got our visas we hopped back on the bus. Super easy. (the bus driver did accidentally leave my passport at the counter where he filled out our forms, but ran back for it when we realized what had happened). When we got off the bus in Phnom Penh we were immediately assaulted by a wave of intense heat unlike any we had experienced. All of S.E Asia is hot - let's be honest - but this was the hottest I had felt in our entire time here. It was brutal. We found a place to stay and paid an extra dollar per person for air conditioning.

After we got settled in we headed out to get some food and check out the Tuol Sleng prison where Cambodian's were held during the Cambodian genocide because they were thought to have been against the regime that had taken over. If you've never heard of the Cambodian genocide, first Google it, then read 'First They Killed My Father' - a book written by a girl who survived the genocide. Anyway, the prison is actually a school that they turned into a prison and now it is a memorial and museum. They left most of the prison the way they found it after the genocide so you could walk into the teeny tiny prison cells the Cambodians were held in and see the rooms where the kept people shackled together. It was very sad, but we're glad that we were able to learn more about how this tragedy happened and who was behind it. As we were leaving, one of the (two or three remaining) survivors of the prison was selling signed copies of his book about his time there and Ethan got to hear him talk a little about it. We bought the book and took a photo with him. After the prison we walked to the "Russian Market," but it was closed so we headed back to our room.

The next day we hired a tuk tuk (open air taxi of sorts) to drive us to what is known as the Killing Fields - another memorial to the Cambodian genocide. This particular killing field, known as Cheong Ek, (there were hundreds all over the country) was used to execute the prisoners from Tuol Sleng. Today it is set up as a walking tour and they give you a set of headphones to listen to information about the site. You can also listen to some survivors talk about their experiences. First, you see where they dropped the prisoners off and then you walk by some of the mass graves that were used to bury the bodies. A couple of them have been preserved and are surrounded by fences and have roofs over them. Others were dug up so the bones could be analyzed to find out how they were killed. Then you walk around a "lake" and listen to some survivor stories and make your way back to more mass graves. The graves just look like big depressions in the earth and if you look closely you can see bone fragments and small pieces of cloth that surface from the graves. The last stop is the memorial stupa that houses thousands of human bones that were dug up from the graves. Cheong Ek was another very depressing, but worthy experience in Cambodia. (E- They truly did an incredible job at the site. With a lot of things in SE Asia being halfway thought through, this was a very impressive memorial to the genocide. It was a very intimate experience that provided a lot of first hand accounts of the horrific acts that occurred here. There were stories about the victims as well as from the soldiers' point of view. I can't believe humans have the capability to do this kind of thing...)
After that we felt a bit down, but really glad we went. We headed to the Russian Market and bought some souvenir shirts and some bathing suits. I have no idea why it's called a Russian Market because most of the stuff that you could buy there are things that are sold in the US. I bought a bathing suit that would normally be sold in Target - weird. Anyway, after that we had our tuk tuk driver drop us down by the river where the bars and western food restaurants are plentiful. We ate dinner and then tried to check out the night market, but it wasn't open. After that fail, we called it a night and headed back. We had an early morning bus to catch to Siem Reap!
The bus was extremely slow and stopped to pick up random people on the side of the road at what seemed like 10 mile intervals. We were very relieved when we pulled into Siem Reap that day. The place we stayed in Phnom Penh had told us that they had a sister hotel in Siem Reap and that if we stayed there they would pick us up from the bus station. So when we got to the "station" (it wasn't much more than a rickety shack on a patch of dirt) there were two tuk tuks waiting for us. It was great, but when we got to the hotel they told us it would be more money than what we had originally been quoted. After we got a bit frustrated the woman went to speak to her boss, who let us stay there for the price we had been told, but there was no a/c and no hot water. No hot water is not a big deal, but I wasn't sure if I could deal with no a/c.

After we ate some food we headed to one of the places I have been wanting to see for a very long time - Angkor Wat. It is an ancient temple that is huge, was built a gazillion years ago and from what I could tell is awesome. So we got a ride out there in hopes of watching the sunset. It wasn't quite the sunset we were looking for but it was still really pretty. The temple was much bigger than I thought it would be, but looked much older than it does on TV. We walked around a little bit then headed back after the sun had gone down. We were saving the serious tour for the sunrise the next day. We ate dinner at our hotel and went to the night market where we got massages and I got my toe nails painted. That night I think I slept about 2 whole hours due to the lack of a/c in our room - they put us in a room with an air conditioner (without the remote of course), but that means no ventilation. I was not a happy camper.
The alarm went off at 4:15am and we were headed to Angkor Wat by 5. The sunrise was pretty awesome and we met a super cute Cambodian kid who called himself Justin Bieber. He was promoting his mom's shop for breakfast so after the sun rose we headed over there for some grub. The rest of the day we spent roaming around Angkor Wat and the other ruins in the area, sweating bucket fulls and consuming unheard of amounts of water. That night we were dead tired but went to the night market again anyway. Shannon and I didn't stay long and went back to pack up to be ready to head to Bangkok in the morning. Cambodia - you were hot, beautiful and we learned a lot from you... see you again next time!

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